Claudia Muzio: a life devoted to art III

The first day of 1933, Claudia starred in a performance of Loreley at the Carlo Felice Theatre in Genoa. May tells of these first months: 

“Claudia’s opening on New Year’s night at the Carlo Felice Theatre in Genoa was a gala affair. […] Claudia’s first performance was broadcast, and brought an avalanche of letters and telegrams from all over Europe. They came from England, from France, from Holland, even from our old ship, the Saturnia, plowing her way through the Atlantic to New York. There were dozens from her friends in Italy, who were all anxiously awaiting her performances further south. 

Claudia was scheduled to sing Traviata away down in Palermo in Sicily on January 17th. […] Claudia had another glorious triumph there. The élite of Sicily filled the four horseshoes and main floor, while the more lowly (in everything but enthusiasm) filled the rest of it to the roof. There was such a jam that at the second performance the police were at the doors to limit the number of standing room tickets; and for the third performance, it was the same. […] Had it not been for her contract in Naples, at the San Carlos, she could have sung six Traviatas to crowded houses, instead of three. Her name was all over Palermo in letters three feet high.”

Claudia sang also in Naples and Brescia, and headed to Rome:

“Claudia opened at the Royal Opera on March 8th, in Forza del Destino, and […] the theatre was packed. Claudia also sang Cavalleria and Tosca, giving about fifteen performances in all. I need not repeat all the things I have already told you of the Roman audiences when Claudia sings —will only say that they seem to grow more and more enthusiastic. […] Claudia, as you all know, goes out very little, especially when she is singing. About her only diversions are her books and her radio. […] Claudia’s closing performance in Rome was Tosca, and, as usual, the theatre was not half large enough to hold all the people who clamoured for admittance. Hundreds were turned away. A huge crowd waited at the stage door after the performance to bid her Godspeed.”

May had some great news. Five years had passed since Claudia’s last season in Buenos Aires. Her mother was now recovered and it was time for her to return:

“And now —another dream is to be realized! We are going to South America! Claudia has been absent from the stage of the Colón in Buenos Aires for five years, and her Spanish admirers refuse  to allow her to remain away longer. So my next letter will come up from the ‘Paris of South America.’”

The whole party (Claudia, May, her mother, her husband and the maid) joined the Italian opera company aboard the ship and embarked for a season that included Buenos Aires, Rio and Sao Paolo. Gigli, Ebe Stignani, Salvatore Baccaloni and Carlo Galeffi were among the artists. May was amazed by Claudia’s reception in Argentina: 

“Our arrival in Buenos Aires was thrilling. Think all the journalists in the city and dozens of Claudia’s admirers were at the boat to meet her. There was old ‘Tomaguino’, too, from the theatre and the devoted chauffeur Aureliano, who had driven her car ever since her first visit to South America. Judging from some of the papers, one would think that only Muzio had arrived. They even had, in one of the papers, a big picture of the Duilio with the caption “The Duilio, on which Muzio returned to Buenos Aires.” The apartment at the Plaza Hotel was filled with flowers, and it was easy to see, even before seeing a Colón audience in action, that our Claudia was a prime favorite. There is often a fly in the ointment, however; we soon learned that some jealous tongue (there are plenty in the opera game) had circulated the report that Muzio had lost both her voice and her looks, and for that reason had remained away from the Colón. It had, the previous season, even been reported in the newspapers. To Claudia’s sensitive soul, this was nerve-wracking. She dreaded going to the theatre for the first rehearsals, as she knew, even loving her as they did, that the chorus and all the people connected with the theatre would be waiting to hear her sing. It was touching to see the relieved, happy expressions on their faces after her first notes.”

Despite the suspicions, everything went marvelously, Argentina style:

“The Colón season opened on May 25th, with a new opera, but everyone said that Claudia’s first performance of Traviata four days later was the real opening. After her five-year absence, she received a royal welcome from the audience of over four thousand people. Flowers were showered down on the stage from the boxes, and she was called out alone at least a dozen times after every act. After the performance, several of the attendants of the theatre had to make a circle around her with tightly-gripped hands to get her through the crowd to her auto. At the second performance —Traviata for the Sunday matinée— the crowd at the stage door was so dense that it took over a dozen police to keep them back from the stage door. The streetcars were entirely stopped until after she had left the theatre, and any autoist in a hurry had to take another route. At every performance after that it was the same story.”

“I now formally retract all I have ever said about the Italian audiences being the most enthusiastic in the world —you see, I had not been to Buenos Aires when I made that statement. These people down here are simply overwhelming; the feeling they have for Claudia is extraordinary —nothing short of worship. It is really thrilling to see those close enough to her on her way out of the theatre reach out their hands just to touch her as she goes by. When she appears at the door, you can hear them cheer for blocks. She is always so sweet to them, too —never has a flower left when she reaches the auto. […] Claudia’s fan mail rivals that of any of the popular movie stars, and during the season she autographed nearly two thousand photographs.”

Young soprano Mafalda Favero attended every rehearsal and expressed her admiration in an interview, many decades later, when she had already retired: 

“It took me a very long time to find my own interpretation [of Violetta], for I was haunted by Claudia Muzio in the role. When she sang it at the Colon in Buenos Aires in 1933, I went to each rehearsal, worshiping her, and it took a superhuman effort for me to finally obtain my personal approach.”

The season continued with Norma. May recounts:

“Claudia’s second opera was Norma —and, dear Gang, until you have heard Muzio’s Norma, you haven’t heard Muzio! This was the most marvellous performance I have ever witnessed. It is a strongly dramatic role. Claudia’s acting was superb, and her singing of the beautiful Casta Diva a thing sublime. Maestro Marinuzzi said that he feared to look at her when he was directing this opera, as she sang and acted with such intensity that she frightened him.”

Let’s read the impression of Mafalda Favero, in the same interview:

“Her Norma was also an unforgettable creation. She had the quality I consider so essential in an artist: to make the public suffer along with her. If a singer doesn’t make the audience cry at certain passages, in my estimation she has failed her job. Callas was a phenomenon, but she had no femininity, and she never produced chills down my spine. She was theatrical to a degree, but never touching.”1

Andrea Chénier followed:

“After Norma came Andrea Chénier, with Claudia and Gigli. What a pair of voices! This is really a tenor’s opera… except when Muzio appears in it… and after her aria in the third act, ‘La mamma morta,’ it was ten minutes before the opera could go on. You will probably remember that it was this opera which impressed me so when I visited Claudia in Rome in 1929, when after this third act the entire audience left their seats to crowd as near as possible to the orchestra pit. That was my first experience with Italian enthusiasm, and I will never forget it, or Claudia’s part in it. Then came Tosca with Gigli. I need not elaborate on this statement, as you have all heard Claudia’s Tosca.”

La Forza del Destino was the last opera before sailing to Rio and Sao Paulo. Gigli, in his debut in the role, was her partner. Buenos Aires’ send-off was as grand as its welcome:

“our visit to Buenos Aires came to an end all too soon. Never have I seen anything to compare with the mob of people that came down to the boat to see the opera company off. There seemed to be thousands, and they swarmed all over the ship. All who could possibly get in were in Claudia’s cabins. After the “Visitors ashore” warning, they lined the pier, waving flares, and we were far away before the shouts of “Viva Muzio” finally died away. It was a great send-off, but the kind that leaves you with a lump in your throat.”

Rio was also a great success:

“On August 31st, Claudia sang her last performance in Rio. It was a magnificent performance of Tosca, and the crowds, who seemed to grow more enthusiastic with each performance, outdid themselves that night. After every act, she was pelted with flowers, and during one of the numerous curtain calls at the end of the opera, six white doves bearing streamers in the Italian colors (red, white and green), with Claudia’s name in silver on the ribbons, were released from the roof of the theatre. You should have heard that crowd when the doves flew toward the lighted stage —one of them right to Claudia’s outstretched hand. Such excitement! After the performance, Claudia could hardly get through the cheering crowd waiting to get a last glimpse of her. How I love all this enthusiasm —and what life it gives to an opera performance.”

The party got back to Italy, Claudia had a short rest at Riolo, and sailed for America on October 18. Claudia’s health was not well. They arrived in San Francisco and she was diagnosed with a bad case of shingles. Although she didn’t miss one performance, she was in bed in between them almost the whole month. May recounts:

“During our stay in San Francisco, Claudia sang Aida (with Dr. Craig standing by), Cavalleria and Traviata, and for her last performance Forza del Destino. How nervous she was that day. She had such a frightful cold she could hardly speak, but like the great artiste and good soldier she is, she went ahead with the performance, although we wondered where the voice was going to come from. I should have known better than to worry, though, for everyone in the theatre said that Muzio had never given a more brilliant performance. Her voice, especially in that most difficult scene of the ‘Virgin of the Angels,’ did not seem to have come from any human throat. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever heard. Her will-power is remarkable!”

They left the city as soon as she ended her commitments. A mighty event was ahead, for Gatti had invited Claudia to perform at the Metropolitan, her first performance there in eleven years and her first Traviata in New York. May writes:

“On December 4th, we left for New York, where Claudia, after an absence of twelve years, was to sing again at the Metropolitan, where she had made her debut in 1916 with Caruso in Tosca. We arrived at the Savoy-Plaza on December 9th, and until it was time for her rehearsals Claudia kept pretty close to her apartment. The weather was pretty bad, and she feared to take risks. Finally, on the night January 1st, 1934, our star returned to the famous Metropolitan, where she had been such a favorite, and sang Traviata to a crowd that packed the theatre to the roof. All her old friends were there, and many of the new ones she had gathered to her since her days at the Met —for who, after having once seen and heard our Muzio, could ever forget her? The enthusiasm was so great that night that I seemed to be carried back to South America. Gatti-Casazza sat in the wing through the entire performance, simply beaming. It has been a long time since such applause was heard at the Metropolitan. The following day, the front page of the New York Times carried the headlines “Muzio receives twelve minutes ovation at the Metropolitan”, which is ‘something’ in America. Claudia was very happy over her success, as she had always loved the Metropolitan and her companions there.”

The New York Herald Tribune published:

“Claudia Muzio, who appeared last night in La Traviata after an absence of twelve years, was immediately and emphatically acclaimed by an enthusiastic house, and after the close of the performance she received an ovation lasting twelve minutes.”

The New York Sun:

“The reentry of the popular opera served to reintroduce to this public Claudia Muzio, a soprano who was a favorite of earlier winters. She had been heard at the Metropolitan for the last time on 4/21/22 at the final matinee of the season… Mme. Muzio was received clamorously last evening. She was recalled after each act, and even in the middle of acts. There was some substantial reason for rejoicing.”

The Evening Journal:

“The demonstration bestowed upon Mme. Muzio at the end of La Traviata was unusual both in intensity and in duration; one observer times its length as twelve minutes as enthusiasts lined up several rows deep along the orchestra pit to applaud ardently and unwearyingly, and recall the singer again and again before the curtain.”

And the New York Times:

“Mme. Muzio was a charming Violetta. Her convincing projection of the role was due in part to her delightfully supple and easy playing and her beauty, but even more to the musicianship with which she endowed her portrayal. The vocal line was always clear, plastic, excellently phrased. It embodied, moreover, the grace and fluency inherent in the music and the situation of the drama. The pianissimo and piano singing were particularly admirable, for Mme. Muzio knows how to project a slender thread of tone through the heavier timbres of the orchestra; a tone, moreover, warmly silvery in color and delicate without fragility.”

May keeps writing:

Traviata was repeated in Philadelphia, and then a superb performance of Cavalleria brought Claudia’s season to a close —a very short one, as she is due back in a very few weeks at the Royal Opera in Rome. She is leaving New York happy that her friends here still love her —and I know, too, that many of our people are the happier for having seen her again and listened to her glorious voice.”

Indeed, her performance as Santuzza was widely acclaimed:

“NEW YORK CRITICISMS GLOW WITH PRAISE OF MUZIO 

The above headline shows that lovely Claudia Muzio won triumphs at the Metropolitan in New York in the same way as she triumphed in Europe, South America and Chicago, where she was a member of the famous Civic Opera. 

It is many a day since the Metropolitan Opera House walls have resounded to such thunders of applause at a performance of Cavalleria Rusticana as last night, after Claudia Muzio’s scene with Borgioli. It was nearly ten minutes before the audience, which filled the house, would cease calling her before the footlights. She had fairly stopped the show. She was Duse-like in her acting, and every note of her song rang clear and true, whether in mezzo voce or when the power was applied in full strength. It was a great triumph for the always popular soprano.”

Another review: 

“Claudia Muzio, who had made her re-entrance in Traviata last week, was warmly greeted as the Sicilian Santuzza. The old saying as to opera singers, that “when they’re old enough to act a part, thy can no longer sing it,” did not fit in this case. Miss Muzio, once a child on the stage to which she now returns, is the daughter of Carlo Muzio and his wife, members of the Metropolitan personnel from the days when stars were the stars of Grau. She acted with innate conviction and she sang often with a mezza voce of tender and touching appeal. The woes of Santuzza were not shrieked, the melodrama never became a mockery. It was evident that the audience found haunting memories in such aristocratic care for the singing tone, the phrase and gesture, all without prima donna airs or undue sophistication. The heroine’s half subdued recital to Mamma Lucia, in her principal air, was followed by long applause from the entire house. The curtain brought an ovation.”

With the Metropolitan performances behind, Claudia set off to Italy once again:

“Tomorrow, January 20th, we sail on the Conte di Savoia for Italy. Almost as soon as we arrive, Claudia will begin rehearsals for Cecilia, the new opera by Monsignor Licinio Refice, which is to be presented for the first time at the Royal Opera in Rome.”

Claudia created the role of Cecilia at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome. The world premiere was on February 15, 1934, and the performance payed tribute to the 350th anniversary of the Roman conservatory of music, the Accademia Santa Cecilia. It was a great success, there were twenty-five curtain calls for Claudia. May wrote of her work:

“A day or two after our arrival in Rome, Claudia began her work for Cecilia, the opera written by Monsignor Refice of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. This is the first time since I have been with Claudia that she has studied a new role, and I am happy to have had the privilege of witnessing a great Artiste prepare herself for the creation of a —role, I suppose I will have to say, but it seemed more like the creation of a saint: the real Saint Cecilia. I was amazed at her attention to every detail, however small, which might help her to perfect her interpretation. She read anything she could find on the life of this lovely saint. She visited the Church of St Cecilia, built over her ancient home, and visited the Catacombs, where the statue of St Cecilia lies. Her costumes were copied from statues and paintings of the saint. The opening night, when Claudia made her entrance on the stage of the Royal Opera House as Cecilia, one felt the saint —not the opera star. It was a revelation, and the sensation of the season. […] Following is an article which appeared in L’Avvenire D’Italia. This is just a sample of the many which appeared in the Italian papers. I hope you will all have the opportunity of hearing her in this beautiful opera. In it, one finds the real Claudia. The music, too, is very beautiful, and the composer shared in the ovation Claudia received at the close of the performance.”

“L’AVVENIRE D’ITALIA, February 16th, 1934 
Cecilia was impersonated by Claudia Muzio, protagonist insuperable and perfect. Adjectives much used and abused in the hurried chronicles of theatre, but in this instance, inferior to their significance. To tell of the interpretation of this illustrious artist, one would need adjectives in the superlative and in capital letters. 

La Muzio, in her well-known artistic scrupulousness, before beginning the interpretation of this difficult personage, had the wish to re-live the life of her virgin compatriot, reading everything written of her, analysing her paintings, and spending hours in the catacombs of St Calisto; searching, in a word, to penetrate into the closed life of this privileged soul. 

And so, la Muzio, after this spiritual preparation, confronted the part. One should have assisted at this preparation. For ten days, she entered the theatre at ten in the morning, leaving again at three, to return again in the evening. Every scene of the opera passed under the surveillance of her study. The frame must be worthy of the painting. 

So Cecilia came to the public. What a marvel! One would need a volume to describe the majesty of this interpretation. Her bearing, every gesture, every movement, every expression, every accent, every tone of her voice that in its sweetness bordered on the supernatural, all converged toward a whole of complete and perfect beauty. What marvellous reserve and what beautiful scenes in the first act with Valeriano, and what glorious beauty of song in the second act. But where we really re-live the life of this glorious Christian martyr is in the third act, the scene of the torture and death. Cecilia seemed to separate herself from the picture, as though she were truly surrounded by an aureole. […] We repeat —an interpretation perfect and insuperable!!!”2

One of the amazed witness of her work was Mafalda Favero:

“I recall a performance of Muzio’s in Refice’s Cecilia, an opera she created in Rome in 1934 which deals with the saint’s martyrdom. She had been so sublime in it the I went backstage to express my admiration at the end and impulsively dropped to my knees. ‘Now, really, my child!’ she said with those sad eyes which haunted me. ‘What are you doing?’”

Claudia wasted no time in resuming her commitments to the recording studio. May tells:

“A week or so after the premiere of Cecilia, Claudia sang the Annuncio from the opera over the radio, with Maestro Refice conducting, and shortly afterward, went to Milano to record it. At the same time, she made a record of Cavalleria. Am so happy about these records, as she has made none for a number of years. She will have time for only these two records now, but intends to do more later on.”

On that occasion, she also recorded the song Colombetta, and made plans for a month of recording in June of 1935. After six performances of Cecilia, she began her journey to South America. On July 14t, 1934, May wrote from Buenos Aires:

“Dear Gang: 

We left for Naples right from the theatre, after Claudia’s sixth Cecilia, and sailed for South America on the Oceania on April 26th. […] Arrived in Buenos Aires on May 14th. Claudia was welcomed by the same admiring crowd, including about a dozen reporters. […] Claudia had a few days of leisure before beginning rehearsals, and we spent our afternoons driving. […] Claudia’s first performance was Traviata on the 23rd. Before the box office opened, hours before the performance, the lines of people reached nearly around the entire block. There wasn’t space for a fly in the theatre that evening, and it was the same story at all her performances. She sang Loreley also, and a beautiful new opera, La Fiamma, by Respighi. She had time for only two performances of this opera, but she could have sung it a dozen times. At the closing performance, there were —believe it or not— eighty-one curtain calls after the last act.3 It was after 2:30 when we left the theatre, but the usual faithful crowd was at the stage door, waiting for a last glimpse of her.”

For the first, and only, time in her Buenos Aires career, some adverse remarks were made by the critics about her work. The review of La Nación spoke of her vocal insecurity in Loreley, but praised her acting. Maybe this was the first apparent sign of her failing health but it seems to have been a temporary thing, as the following reviews were only positive. After Loreley, she sang Manon Lescaut and Ottorino Respighi’s La Fiamma, conducted by the composer, who had travelled on the same ship with Claudia, after having been engaged at her request to introduce his work to the South American audience. In her 1954 biography of her father, Elsa Respighi speaks of the importance of the soprano in his life, and the lasting impression he left on him with her deeply personal interpretation of the role of Silvana. As usual, Claudia prepared very carefully for this premiere and left nothing to chance. 

Buenos Aires surrounded her with its love: 

“She has received dozens of invitations to teas and dinners —enough to keep her busy every day, if she accepted them. The Italian ambassador, whom she has known for years, has tried several times to give a dinner for her at the Embassy. The other evening, after the performance, he came backstage and asked her again. She let him talk and tell her now nice and quiet it would be, and that he would invite only a few friends. When he had finished talking, she reached up, took hold of the lapels of his coat and said very sweetly “Do you love me?” As any of you would answer, he said “Of course I do.” Then, cooed Claudia: “Please have that dinner without me.” Can’t you just picture her?”

La Traviata and La Fiamma were repeated in Montevideo and it was time to board the ship bound for Italy. May wrote from Rome:

“Majestic Hotel, Rome, August 6th, 1934. 
Dear Gang: 

We stopped in Montevideo for three days, and Claudia sang two performances —Traviata and Fiamma— to cheering audiences. On our way to the pier on July 18th, we stopped at the theatre, so that Claudia could say good-bye to Maestro Panizza, who was conducting a rehearsal. The moment she entered the theatre, the entire orchestra stood and applauded, and then followed her out of the theatre to the car. It was a grand send-off. Claudia enjoyed so much working with Maestro Panizza. He is a grand person, as well as a grand conductor.”

Paramos en Montevideo durante tres días, y Claudia hizo dos actuaciones —Traviata y Fiamma— ante un público entusiasta. En nuestra marcha hacia el muelle el 18 de julio, nos detuvimos en el teatro para que Claudia pudiera despedirse del Maestro Panizza, que estaba dirigiendo un ensayo. En el momento en que entró en la sala, toda la orquesta se puso de pie y aplaudió, y luego la siguió hacia fuera del teatro hasta el coche. Fue una gran despedida. Claudia disfrutó mucho trabajando con el Maestro Panizza. Él es una gran persona, así como un gran director.”

Once in Italy, it was arranged that May would visit her parents in Chicago while Claudia was in South America with Refice for the premiere of Cecilia. The opera had eight performances at the Colón, directed by the composer, as well at least one appearance in Montevideo. It was a great success and Refice was thrilled with the soprano’s work, as we can read in this interview: 

“— What can you tell us about your interpreter, Claudia Muzio? 

— All the laudatory adjectives would not be enough to give an idea of what the chosen singer is in my Cecilia. One cannot wish for better and my opinion is shared by all those who have had the good fortune to hear her. I owe her all my recognition.”

Claudia and May were reunited in Rome:

“Majestic Hotel, Rome January 5th, 1935. 
Dear Gang: 

I was so happy to see my Claudia again —and I guess she and Mamma were glad to see me, too. […] Claudia reached Rome just two days before I did. She had a marvellous season in South America. After her performances of Cecilia, she did a number of radio programs and concerts. Says she was kept busy from morning until night autographing photos. Her mail was so heavy that it was delivered direct to her in sacks, direct from the post office. 

On December 29th, she opened here at the Teatro Reale in Otello. It was a magnificent performance —a real gala evening. The theatre looked like a fashion parade —one of the most brilliant audiences I have ever seen. Claudia has also sung several sublime performances of Traviata. Each seems to grow more beautiful.”

A few weeks later, at the end of January, May left Claudia forever. They continued to write but they never saw each other again. 

Claudia had a pending engagement: she had to fulfill her contract with Columbia. She spent a week of June in the studio and left some of the most moving vocal recordings in the history of the art of singing. In the book The last prima donnas, the author asks Lucrezia Bori about the most beautiful female voices she had heard. Bori names Ponselle, Rethberg, Flagstad, Easton and says: 

“Muzio was a case apart: you cannot classify her, for in the end you had been so emotionally destroyed by her performance, you did not even know anymore what kind of an instrument she had.”

She was in South America from mid August until November, and sang Cecilia and Mimì in Rio and Sao Paulo with Gigli and Bruno Landi. In Buenos Aires where she gave several recitals through Radio Belgrano, sang at the Teatro Broadway in a concert performance of fragments of Refice’s works II Martirio di Sant’Agnese and Trittico Francescano, conducted by the composer, and, finally, in November 27, 1935, gave a concert at the Teatro San Martín, singing more works by Refice.

Her failing health forced her to rush back to Italy, not before agreeing to return to the Teatro Colon for ten weeks of the 1936 season. The contract was signed on February 2, 1936, by Athos Palma, Director General of the Teatro Colon, and sent to her in Rome. She immediately sent it back duly signed. Some weeks later, on April 4, she wrote  the following letter to Palma’s assistant Juan Coltella: 

“… to confirm we have verbally communicated, I am sad to tell you that it impossible for me to embark on the 2 of May on the ship Neptune. 

The long rheumatic illness which I have endured in the past winter continues to cut across my habitual artistic activity requiring a long period of convalescence in a dry and temperate climate, and the doctors do not favour my facing the rigors of another winter. 

Let me assure you, however, that when my convalescence is verified in a short time that I will communicate with you and you will permit me to return to your house. 

Please accept my best wishes for your season and with all consideration for you, for Mr. Palma and all friends and associates of the Director and for Grassi Diaz. 

Devotedly yours, 
Claudia Muzio”

Ezio Pinza was in Rome, recording Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, and heard that Claudia was very ill. Their friendship dated back to his early years in Buenos Aires, when the closeness of their bond led him to ask her to be the godmother of his daughter, whom he named in her honor. He asked for her at the hotel that was to be her final abode but was turned away. Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, who visited her often in these last days, wrote in 1955 in his book Voci Parallele:

“The Argentinians called her “la Divina Claudia” and truly divine she was in the performance of ‘Casta diva’ in the Norma and in the aria of the Trovatore: ‘D’amor sull’ali rosee.’ Her singing could not be better defined than recalling Dante’s words in Casella’s episode: “whose sweetness still sounds inside me.” Claudia Muzio’s voice was rather limited, but it acquired unsuspected resonances, because in every note breathed a vibrant feeling. This gave her the ability to face the inhuman tessitura of Turandot and the superhuman one of Norma, the very human impetus of Santuzza and the resigned surrender of Desdemona.

A great and happy artist in the limelight, as modest and unfortunate as she was in life, Muzio left the world stage quietly, with her index finger on her mouth, as if to say: don’t move, be still, don’t disturb yourselves for me.”

On the morning of Sunday, May 24, 1936, Claudia died. One of the innumerable obituaries published in the Buenos Aires press reads: 

“She was the artist most loved by the people of Buenos Aires… These words express what her disappearance means. She was loved, she was admired and she was respected. When her name appeared on the billboard of the Colón, a long parade began at the box office. Rich and poor, women of the people, aristocratic ladies, old folks who had applauded Patti and Tamagno, everybody went to secure their place to see the greatest actress of the contemporary lyric theatre.”

Nigel Douglas tells that “when a memorial mass was held for Muzio in Chicago the pastor said “Many is the child she has dressed in this parish,” but she had preferred not to let her light shine before men.” Mimí Zuccari, a close friend who was with her until the end, started an international subscription to build a monument on her grave to honour her memory. The first one to subscribe was Lauri-Volpi and, very soon, fans and theatres from all over the world joined the cause. The memorial was inaugurated on May 23, 1939, and its inscription reads:

“La sua voce divina le genti d’ogni remoto paese ammaliò. 
Messagera di grazia, di forza, di luce, d’arte.”


Recordings

Claudia Muzio
Colombetta
Arturo Buzzi-Peccia
Recorded in 1934.

Claudia Muzio
Voi lo sapete
Cavalleria rusticana
Pietro Mascagni
Recorded in 1934.

Claudia Muzio
L’annuncio
Cecilia
Licinio Refice
Recorded in 1934.

Claudia Muzio
Morte di Cecilia
Cecilia
Licinio Refice
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
Ombra di nube
Licinio Refice
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
Ave Maria
Licinio Refice
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
Pace, pace, mio Dio
La forza del destino
Giuseppe Verdi
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
Vissi d’arte
Tosca
Giacomo Puccini
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
Sì, mi chiamano Mimì
La Bohème
Giacomo Puccini
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
Donde lieta uscì
La Bohème
Giacomo Puccini
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
La mamma morta
Andrea Chénier
Umberto Giordano
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
Tacea la notte placida
Il Trovatore
Giuseppe Verdi
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
Ah! Non credea mirarti
La sonnambula
Vincenzo Bellini
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
Casta diva
Norma
Vincenzo Bellini
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
L’altra notte in fondo al mare
Mefistofele
Arrigo Boito
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
Teneste la promessa… Addio del passato
La Traviata
Giuseppe Verdi
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
Poveri fiori
Adriana Lecouvreur
Francesco Cilea
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
Esser madre è un inferno
L’Arlesiana
Francesco Cilea
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio, Francesco Merli
Già nella notte densa
Otello
Giuseppe Verdi
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio, Francesco Merli
Dio ti giocondi, o sposo
Otello
Giuseppe Verdi
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
Spirate pur
Stefano Donaudy
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
O del mio amato ben
Stefano Donaudy
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
Se tu m’ami
Alessandro Parisotti
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
Ninna nanna della vergine
Max Reger
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
Beau soir
Claude Debussy
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
Bonjour, Suzon
Léo Delibes
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
Les filles des Cadiz
Léo Delibes
Recorded in 1935.

Claudia Muzio
C’est mon ami
Bainbridge Crist
Recorded in 1935.


1 Gina Cigna, in the same series of interviews on the book The last prima donnas, was of the same opinion: “For me Callas simply could not touch Muzio. With Muzio you suffered agonies with her heroines, with Callas never.” Tenor and writer Nigel Douglas writes in his book More legendary voices: “Ebe Stignani, who sang with Muzio in the 1920s and with Callas in the 1950s, said “Muzio was above all comparisons —to me she was on an altar”; […] I well remember the heart-warming enthusiasm with which Dame Eva Turner once spoke to me of Muzio when I was preparing a BBC radio program about her. Muzio had been kind enough to invite her younger colleague to visit her while they were appearing during the same season in Chicago, and to her surprise Dame Eva found herself participating in a thoroughly English tea and being closely questioned about current affairs in Hammersmith and Tottenham, two London boroughs in which Muzio had received her early education. Dame Eva described her as the singer who had made upon her “the most unforgettable impression of all,” and she was particularly enthusiastic about Muzio’s qualities as a recitalist. In her own gorgeously rounded tones she said, “Every word was pregnant with meaning, and she encompassed the phrases so beautifully with her flowing tone. She held us all entranced, and any chance to hear her was an opportunity not to be missed.” I remember, too, asking my own teacher, Alfred Piccaver, who, in his opinion, was the greatest soprano, with whom he had ever worked. I expected he might pause to think —Lehmann, perhaps, or Selma Kurz? I knew it would not be Jeritza— but without a second’s hesitation back came the answer “Claudia Muzio.” He sang Cavaradossi to her Tosca in one of his Chicago seasons and to him she was incomparable.”

2 Some time after this premiere, at the request of the Italian Ambassador at Washington, Claudia was presented with the Gold Medal of Italian Culture in foreign lands by the Italian government, an award similar to one that was given years before to Eleonora Duse.

3 This was, of course, also recorded on the press. 


Sources

  • Claudia Muzio (1889-1936), Her Life and Career, Laurence Jenkins, Wellington, 2003.
  • Claudia Muzio, La única, Eduardo Arnosi, Buenos Aires,1986.
  • Following A Star, Letters Home from May Higgins, found on the archived version of the website of Mike Richter, accessed on March 2020. 
  • The last prima donnas, Lanfranco Rasponi, New York, 1982.
  • More legendary voices, Nigel Douglas, New York, 1995.
  • Claudia Muzio, nel 70° anniversario della morte, Giuseppe Marchetti, Rome, 2006.
  • archives.metoperafamily.org
  • operas-colon.com.ar
  • adp.library.ucsb.edu
  • The Teatro Solís: 150 years of Opera, Concert, and Ballet in Montevideo, Susana Salgado, Middletown, 2003.
  • Claudia Muzio L’Unica, facebook page, accessed on March 2020. 
  • Voci parallele, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, Milan, 1960. 
  • Rosa Ponselle: a centenary biography, James A. Drake, Oregon, 1997.
  • A working friendship: the correspondence between Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, New York, 1974.
  • Toscanini, Harvey Sachs, London, 1978.
  • Traveling with Claudia Muzio, An Account Drawn from May Higgins’s Letters, 1929-1935, Ronald L. Davis, The Opera Quarterly, Volume 10, Issue 2, 1993.
  • Soprano Dame Eva Turner, A Conversation with Bruce Duffie, found in bruceduffie.com, accessed on March 2020.